April 6, 2001 -- CHICAGO (Reuters) — In the town where Al Capone gave mobsters a bad name, an Italian-American legal group on Thursday sued the producers of cable TV's smash show The Sopranos, alleging that it paints Italians as born criminals.
The suit against Time Warner Entertainment Co. seeks no money or modifications in the show, but asks a court to proclaim that the program violates the Illinois Constitution's guarantee of individual dignity.
"This is like no family I know," said attorney Enrico Mirabelli, pointing to a poster of the fictitious mob family in whose name the letter R is depicted by a pistol. "I don't know Italian mothers, ever, who try to have their son killed. That's not realistic," he said at a news conference called by the American Italian Defense Association. The group filed the suit in Cook County Circuit Court.
The association issued a statement saying the series "suggests that criminality is in the blood or in the genes of Italian Americans and that Italians as early immigrants to this country had little opportunity other than to turn to crime."
Time Warner Entertainment issued a statement saying, "We are very proud of The Sopranos. We're hardly alone in our assessment that the show is an extraordinary artistic achievement."
The popular HBO program about the intrigues of a New Jersey crime boss and his family is now in its third season. This season's premiere episode drew 11 million U.S. viewers. The Chicago group said a boycott of the show and its advertisers was a possibility down the road.
If the court does issue a judgement holding that the show depicts depravity, hatred, abuse, and criminality to an ethnic group (as forbidden by the state constitution), he said, the next step might be to take that ruling to Time Warner's shareholders to ask them why the company should still be spending money on such a program.
"I personally would love to see them do away with the show," Grippo said. "I think it's bad for America. We're having children shooting each other in schools and we have a program that is deifying and romanticizing the shooting of people in the head."